PRETORIA, South African Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies has signed an agreement establishing the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) at a ministerial meeting of eastern and southern African countries held in Kampala, Uganda, the Department of Trade and Industry here says.

The Department said in a statement issued here over the weekend that the meeting was attended by trade ministers and officials from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the East African Community (EAC), and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The TFTA was launched by the Heads of States of the relevant countries at Sharm el-Shaik, Egypt, in June 2015. The Department said South Africa did not sign the agreement at that stage “since there was still outstanding work in some of the annexures to the agreement”.

“All the annexures have been completed and adopted by the tripartite Sectoral Ministers Committee, enabling South Africa to sign the agreement. This TFTA represents an integrated market of 26 countries with a combined population of 625 million people and a total gross domestic product (GDP) of $1.6 trillion,” the Department said.

“South Africa is 19th country to sign the agreement. The agreement will enter into force once 14 countries have submitted their instrument of rectification. Egypt recently became the first country to rectify the agreement. Once the agreement enters into force it will reduce the tariffs on goods traded between the tripartite countries and provide new opportunities for exports as well as regional value chains.”

Davies said South Africa had been a champion of the tripartite process from the beginning and committed to the process and was pleased that it was in a position to sign the agreement. South Africa, as part of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), comprising Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland, had participated in the negotiations to finalise the bilateral tariffs commitments.

“The conclusion of these negotiations will be another important step forward in the process since it will provide commercial benefits to our business people by enabling them to trade products between SACU and EAC countries at a reduced or zero tariff,” Davies said.